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Red Lake receives grant to launch reintroduction of sturgeon

The last lake sturgeon in Red Lake disappeared in the 1950s. Now, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department has issued a $159,152 grant to allow the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources to launch the reintroduction of the fish.

"The first year of the project is just getting the plan together," said Pat Brown, Red Lake DNR fish biologist. "The second year, we're going to be working cooperatively with U.S. Fish & Wildlife stocking 10,000 fingerlings in 2007 and 10,000 in 2008."

Brown said the fingerlings will be 6-8 inches long.

He said this is the beginning of a reintroduction project that will take about 20 years to complete. Meanwhile, the DNR will protect the sturgeon. Brown said sturgeon take 20 years to reach sexual maturity and can live more than a century.

"Hopefully, our kids and grandkids will be able to fish for sturgeon," he said.

Brown said sturgeon historically were an important food source for people around Red Lake. Remains of the fish have been found in archeological digs, he said.

He said Red Lake is ideal for sturgeon, citing Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin as a lake with similar characteristics as Red Lake. Lake Winnebago has a large sturgeon population and offers a spearing season for the fish, Brown said.

He wrote the grant request with the money coming from the Tribal Wildlife Grant Program. He said the source of funding for that program is from off-shore oil drilling payments for environmental improvements. He said the Red Lake Nation has tapped into that grant source in the past for waterfowl improvement, but this is the first time it's been used for a fishery project.

Brown said sturgeon used to migrate up the Red Lake River into Red Lake for spawning, but dams have cut off the sturgeons' access. He said all the dams have been taken out except at Crookston, Thief River Falls and Red Lake. A fishway was built around the dam at Crookston last summer, Brown said, and Red Lake will begin work with the Army Corps of Engineers this summer on a fish passage/fish trap at the Red Lake end. The fish trap is to exclude carp from Red Lake, he said. The dam, he said, was built in 1931 for flood control.

If the DNR starts stocking sturgeon fingerlings next year, the fish can repopulate the stretch of the river between Red Lake and Thief River Falls.

Brown said the Red Lake River is the only outlet from Red Lake and is the largest tributary to the Red River of the North in the United States.